What is a shaman?
Shamans are walkers between worlds. They journey, (spirit travel) sometimes, but not always, while in trance. In this journeying they go out of their physical bodies into other worlds (also called spirit worlds in non ordinary reality) in order to gain understanding, knowing, knowledge, the ‘bigger picture’. From this they enable (or sometimes undertake on behalf of) en-wholing (healing) other beings, creatures, people, plants, the land itself. Journeying is an essential part of being a shaman – else he is not walking between worlds. It can be difficult and dangerous. To be a shaman requires total commitment.
Animism is an integral part of shamanism. All shamans are connected to everything around them, whether it lives (as you understand living) or not. So you would feel as much at-one with your computer or your car as you might with your cat. A magician once said “if you cannot be a worm, then you cannot be god”. This tenet is fundamental in Celtic shamanism and told through the Lore story of “Taliesin”. Celtic shamans learn this story very early in their apprenticeship – then spend the rest of their lives putting it into practice.
These two masks are in fact one – if you turn one upside-down you get the other. This is the Celtic tradition of transformation, shape-shifting. The masks are the alchemical King and Queen, the God and Goddess, the Lord and Lady.
This mask is the essence of shamanism, two apparent opposites which are in fact different perspectives of the same thing, the one thing. It has a modern connection with gestalt, also about seeing things from more than one viewpoint. The spiritual adage “What you see depends on what you’re looking at and where you’re looking from” is a good place to begin – and this is Shapeshifting.
What is Shapeshifting?
It has a fabulous and wonderful mystique and is also an extremely subtle and well hidden art. It’s about “thinking yourself” into another place. You take everything that “shows” you to the everyday world with you. You are not there through your own mind-abilities. Or you can ask another Being if you can share their shape – if they agree, you go with them. You share your consciousness with them and they with you. You might do this because you need the wisdom of the Being or Beast with whom you travel, they may be able to help you find answers to questions. An example of this is the “Finding of Mabon” in the Celtic tale Culhwch and Olwen where Kay and his companions travel to find the Eldest Beast and are taken by Salmon to the place where Mabon is imprisoned. But Shapeshifting is also the means to Dreamweaving.
What is Dreamweaving ?
Dreamweaving is the ability to walk consciously between the worlds and to transfer wisdom between them. The shaman is the walker between the worlds who bridges, links, the “everyday” world with Otherworld. He knows the ways of gods and men, and is able to translate that knowledge into knowing so that both worlds are able understand and co-operate with each other. However, knowing is not gained easily. It is the fruit of a long and difficult apprenticeship, of many gruelling trials and tests. All the world’s heroic tales make a point of this. The hero undergoes a series of hair-raising adventures before he slays the monster, wins the golden apples, beheads the giant, etc. The old Taleweavers certainly knew this.
This is essential to the shaman’s craft. There was more to the old tales than just a cracking good yarn. Encoded in the thrills and emotions were messages, communications and teachings from the gods speaking through the shaman. The tales are the framework of the lore and Lore is a body of teachings and so an essential part of the shaman’s working life. Through lore we re-member the ancient strands of Otherworldly knowledge buried deep in our unconscious and bring them to the forefront of our conscious mind. We can then see them from a new perspective and apply them to life in our “everyday” world.
These are another thing which is integral to Celtic Shamans. They work with the seasons of the Planet – which are defined by the solar system of which that planet is a part. To find out more click on Seasons. Shapechanging and the Seasons are an integral part of Dreamweaving Story-Lore in Celtic wisdom.
Some concepts …
Many students speak of “caring for” (in various ways) the land, the planet, etc. think about the way you’ve said this. To do something for someone or thing, without being asked, is to take on a parental-role yourself and assume a child-role for the other which is dis-empowering and controlling. It’s also daft! The planet has been chugging along for X billion years while mankind has been around for perhaps up to 6 million years – a flea bite! It makes one think that just possibly the planet can even cope with us – on her terms – although this could seem exceedingly unpleasant to us in what is to her a very short term.
So, how do we change the way we behave with the planet, land, etc.? How about changing the phrase “care for” to “work with”. To work with something is to behave towards it as an equal. You might also consider adding Jung’s dictum to his students to your mantra-set. Never know best and never know first. None of us succeeds in doing this all the time but it does improve our relationships with everything if we try to remember to do it. Practising shamans know this – they “work with” rather than “care for” or Life.
People who really work with magic look like the dinner-lady at school, or the posh man with his red Porsche making money on Wall Street, or the doctor, or Bill Gates, or the woman who runs the village shop, or Anita Roddick, or the person who drives the school bus, or Richard Branson, or the postman. They do not wear feathers and funny robes (except in private among friends) or invite you over for an evening’s light drumming … sorry if this knocks a few sacred cows on the head!
Here is a Priest of the Land, with his pig. Andy is a Biodynamic farmer in the West Midlands, Britain, you can read a bit more about biodynamics at Gardening Gnomes. Andy works with the land and the beasts to whom he is guardian, they’re not ‘units of production’. This is a female red Tamworth pig , we met her and her piglings. Each pig has his or her own shed in the field where they live and can go into it any time they want. the sheds are mucked out and clean smelling … did you know that pigs are very clean creatures when they are allowed enough space to live? Andy’s giving her some milk from his own cows – we don’t have pics yet – and you can see the smile on her face. He doesn’t overstock his land and all his animals have the sort of conditions they like naturally … you can see this pig lives in a partially wooded place. Andy’s animals are killed and eaten later but he and they have a good relationship, and a contract which they both know.
Earth is made up of the four kingdoms of nature, animals, plants, metals and humans – notice, humans last! The cosmic idea is that they all work together and that no one group is superior to the others – humans, take note! Everything, in this planetary and solar system, lives both with and off each other so we do not find the mere fact of eating meat immoral. However, how this is done is, in most parts of the world, very immoral and this we take great exception to. Andy is, truly, a Priest of the Land. He knows and loves his role of guardian, incidentally he also teaches t’ai chi and drives a fire engine as a volunteer fireman. He doesn’t look in the least “New Age” does he? But, as a biodynamic farmer, he knows and works very directly with the elementals and devas who live on his farm, and knows that without their help he wouldn’t be able to do what he does. Andy is a ‘practising shaman’ although he probably wouldn’t appreciate being called that! this is real work, helping the planet to become an integrated living being. How? By just being and doing what he does. People buy his vegetables and meat, all sorts of people from neighbours to big London restaurants. they like his produce and tell their customers what they’re eating – so word gets round. this is often how magic works most effectively.
Magical workers of all persuasions are invisible. They are shape-changers and assume the shape which will gain them their ends in whatever situation they decide to join in. this shape may be non-threatening or very threatening, depending on what they decide will serve best. If they get it wrong they accept the consequences, have a quiet sulk and a whinge, then come back out having learned something and ready to try again. They do not blame others. They know the onus is always on them to ask, find out, listen and then make an informed choice. To be a shaman, even an apprentice one, is to say “Yes. I accept responsibility for my choices and actions.”. This is what the King does. And, as with the Fisher King, sometimes he gets it wrong and the land becomes a Wasteland. He then has to sort it out.